Can you tell me more about the children’s clothes seen in this family photo?
QThis photo of my great grandmother Mary McKenna and her siblings in Lancashire was probably taken just before 1900. Could the children be dressed up for a wedding or to celebrate an event in the Catholic calendar? My aunt mentioned something about the ‘ Whit Walk’. Linda Fransham, by email
AThis is a very evocative photograph and I think your date of around 1900 is probably right. Your suggestions as to its reason would also seem most likely. The Whit Walk and holiday was, and still is, an important celebration in the north-west of England. The tradition started in the early 19th century and is a major part of the Christian calendar for all denominations. The Catholic Whit Walk was focused around children, who would march as members of their parish day school.
Both the flowers and the style of clothing were influenced by wedding fashions of the time. Child attendants had become fashionable for weddings from the 1880s onwards. It is therefore quite difficult to distinguish between the two occasions, although I would err on the side of the Whit Walk. Participation in, and dress for, Whit Walks became an important indicator of status for working-class families by the late-19th century.
The expense of providing special clothes for the event showed that the family was managing well and this may have been summed up in this photograph.
Boys’ outfits Small boys could also be elaborately dressed up for Whitsun or weddings in pseudo-18th- century dress.
Flowers The floral sprays held by the children are very similar to fashionable wedding flowers of the time.
Headgear and footwear The photograph is most likely to have been taken on the occasion of a Whit Walk due to the children’s non-white headgear and footwear.
Whit Walk clothing The clothing was white – it was traditional to buy new clothing for Whitsun.